As a lifelong motorcyclist, I have observed the motorcycling landscape change drastically from one trend to another. Throughout all the fads there has always been 3 major mainstays, Sportbikes, Sport Tourers, and Cruisers. But now Adventure bikes seem to have broken the mold, transforming from ‘fad’ to a fully qualified category.
Before the massive influx of Adventure bikes it used to be such a simple navigation when deciding on a motorcycle. In the 90’s you only had to ask one question, do you want to be comfortable or go fast? That single question could easily dictate whether you landed on a Harley or a GSX-R. Or if you wanted to compromise and try for the best of both worlds you would likely find yourself on something like a VFR or a BMW R1100S. Now I’m aware of the vast amount of motorcycles available at the time, and in no way am I discrediting the popular GS series from BMW, I’m merely pointing out that while you could get yourself a GS since the early 80’s, you would definitely be in the minority if that was your choice.
Flash forward 20 years and we are now looking at a drastically different world. Now it seems that every manufacturer is offering their version of an adventure bike, even having multiple models. No longer is it only the hardcore riders, but an ever increasing amount of average Joes that want to get out on the open road. Adventure bikes didn’t come with a stigma attached like the others. If you wanted a Harley you needed to also wear leather chaps and listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd on repeat. To ride a Sportbike you had to be reckless, with a perpetual habit for weaving through traffic like a real squid. And what about Sport Tourers? They were squids that grew too old to ride regular Sportbikes anymore.
These are obviously far from accurate, but that didn’t prevent the stereotypes from forming between groups. And I think that’s what helped make adventure bikes so popular. They became the choice for those looking to ride and not be hassled over what they were riding. They were amongst some of the most accepting two-wheeled enthusiasts out there, making the culture as important as the bikes. Unfortunately, I think they have lost their way, resulting in a new ‘us against them’ mentality that needs to be squashed.
You see, the scene has exploded. The bikes have gone from humble beginnings to exorbitantly expensive machines. Sure they are impressive, but they are also getting to a point of being unattainable for that average Joe rider. That’s not factoring in all the gear and ‘Farkle’ that is deemed necessary for adventure riding. Beyond that, the culture has seemingly disappeared. Many adventure riders I have met were just happy to be on two wheels, and even happier if you were as well. They could care less if you were on a Harley or a Vespa. While I’m sure it’s still a small percentage it does appear that the Adventure crowd is going down the dark road of segregation.
It’s no longer about just riding. Now you need to be decked in Klim gear with the latest Sena strapped to your helmet. If you are on anything but the latest European machines you are ‘behind the times.’ It’s sad really, they have turned their once fun culture into that of utter elitism. Just like the Harley crowd of old, the Adventures now seem to think their machines are untouchable. While the bikes like the Ducati Multistrada and BMW GS are definitely amazing machines, they still do have their pitfalls.
Let’s examine the bikes from an unbiased perspective for a moment. First is the stature, they are massive. Taking the Multistrada for example, you are looking at a 33inch seat height. That’s 3 inches higher than a new VFR and about 6 inches taller than a Road King. While the Multistrada only weighs about 520lbs wet, you still have to factor in all that gear that’s required to fit in. Now you’re looking at an almost 600lb bike that carries all its weight up high, and you can barely touch the ground. Sounds promising.
Next is ergonomics. Bikes like these are actually very comfortable, with a few caveats. Two things in my opinion make adventure bikes less than ideal. First is the fact you have no options for where your feet go. Sitting in a neutral mid control position without a way of stretching can make anyone go crazy on a long ride. Second is the fairing design, and how little wind protection you have. Sure its supposed to be that way, adding to the overall experience, but it can slowly take its toll over long riders. The rest of the bike is actually pretty impressive. They typically make really good power, and that tall suspension will soak up just about anything. But there is one thing almost all adventure folks do that blows my mind, they ride with knobby tires.
If you are running your bike in Dakar or something equally hostile then sure, run knobbies. But for a touring bike here in the states? 90% of the time you will benefit drastically from regular street tires, or a light dual sport setup. The buzz you get from a hefty set of knobs on the freeway can be completely unnerving. Add that to the obscure offroad wheel sizes and you have a bike that is no longer balanced, lending itself to being offroad much more than on. And once you run a dedicated set of street tires you are no longer riding the versatile machine you once bragged about. You’re instead on an oversprung bike with a massive center of gravity. Even the boys from Long Way Round swapped for some regular street rubber when they hit North America, a sign that you don’t really need all those bells and whistles that you are so keen on bragging about.
Now, none of this is any type of major deal breaker. That is until you start acting like your machine is God’s gift to motorcycles. I love all motorcycles, from baggers to dirt bikes, and I can tell you I’m sick of hearing one group proclaim how much better their bike or their style is over the next. For instance the other day I met a guy on a KTM 1190 Adventure who could barely keep it upright in the parking lot due to the size of the bike and his own lack of stature. We then proceeded to talk a little bit about bikes and riding before a cruiser went by. Sure enough, he started with a scoff before launching into how ‘silly’ cruisers are before making a comment about their lack of suspension travel. With not a lick of dirt on his adventure rig it was the pot calling the kettle black.
And this is unfortunately not the only encounter I have seen go down like this. It’s unfortunate really. There is plenty of room in this world for every type of motorcycle and there is also a time and place where every type of motorcycle excels. Adventure bikes are great, but so are cruisers, sportbike, pit bikes, dirt bikes and any other type of bike. So get over your issues, and celebrate the fact that someone else is cruising around this world on two wheels just like you.